Release Date: January 18, 2013
Developer(s): Mad Menace Entertainment
Platform(s): Android (Amazon App Store), iOS
Zombie games are everywhere these days, from high-end computers to consoles and mobile devices. They’re usually pretty similar to each other as well, with players taking control of snarky survivors and slaughtering thousands of the undead. GraveStompers by Mad Menace Entertainment tries to change the formula a bit by having you actually play as a zombie who hunts his own brethren. It may not make the experience remarkably different from other titles, but it’s still refreshing nonetheless. And when you add in high quality graphics, tight controls, and a copious amount of content, you have a mobile game that has a lot of potential. Sadly, certain design choices keep it from greatness.
What will catch your eye right away about GraveStompers is its dark, gothic art direction and fantastic 3D graphics. Good looking games on mobile devices aren’t as rare as they used to be, but many games simply don’t have the art direction to match the pretty visuals. GS doesn’t fall into that category. It has a clear identity and look that is easily recognizable and succeeds at capturing a classic horror atmosphere. The environments are highly detailed, dark, and have an oppressive feel to them. The character models, on the other hand, are grotesque but kind of cute at the same time. It’s a style that will appeal to people regardless of their age. The game also sports some pretty nice music throughout. It’s of the metal variety and fits the style of the game well.
GraveStompers, like most zombie games, doesn’t offer much in the way of a story. It’s pretty barebones and the setup is quite simple. You play as a young zombie boy named Max whose town of Slumbering Cove has been overrun by the undead. His father Earl reveals to him that the root cause of this calamity is some kind of strange chemical called “Necrotoxin-C,” which has been unleashed by the mad scientist Dr. Cayhille. Max is then given a pistol, a lead pipe, and a chainsaw, performs a little tutorial, and is sent on his merry way to make things right. It doesn’t get any more intricate than that, and to be honest, it doesn’t really have to. It provides you with a motive for the ensuing massacre, which is really all that’s necessary for this type of game.
Once out of the tutorial, the basic structure of the game reveals itself. GraveStompers offers wave-based challenges that must be completed in order to earn points and bones (the in-game currency). You have four different locales to battle in: a spooky cemetery, a section of the small town mentioned above, a junkyard, and another spooky cemetery. Ok, so maybe it’s really more like three, but those two stages actually do look different. Each stage has 20 levels to complete within, and they get progressively more difficult as you go further. They each also have different kinds of enemies that are trying to kill you. For example, the first cemetery stage is mostly comprised of shambling zombies, while the town is up to the gills in mutant spiders and exploding kamikaze demons.
As for how the game actually plays, it’s good but comes with some caveats. You control Max from a third-person perspective and simply hack, bash, and shoot everything that moves in each level. The game, like many these days, employs touch screen controls which I absolutely despise most of the time. GraveStompers actually manages to pull it off though, which I found quite surprising. Everything is tight, response, and works as it should. Movement is handled with a virtual left analog stick, and aiming is done with a similar one on the right. There’s also a lock-on button that is essential to be effective in combat since it makes targeting far away enemies a breeze. The shooting and melee combat both feel pretty good, but over time it can get tiring.
This is one of the major issues with GS, it just gets repetitive over time. It might have to do with the controls and the fact that you’re only ever pressing one button to attack, or it might be that the enemies just don’t really put up much of a fight. Regardless, this is one game that should really be played in short bursts. It’s fun to pick it up throughout the day, do a few levels, and turn it off; like a good mobile title, the levels are short and are designed with this in mind. Playing over long stretches, however, reveals just how simple everything is and leads to boredom. It’s fun, but you better keep it short if you want it to stay that way.
Another way to keep things fresh is to indulge in the game’s numerous unlockables. These are bought through the “Market” and range from melee objects, guns, and special characters. On the melee side you’ve got some classic weapons at your disposal, such as baseball bats, maces, and even wooden planks with nails in them. You’ll also find an assortment of armaments like flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and even a laser gatling gun. Finally, there’s a whole cast of extra zombie characters to buy. They’re similar to Max, but come equipped with stronger starting weapons and abilities. There’s even Ghostface from the Scream movies available, but he requires you to you fork over real cash, which sadly is heavily encouraged.
Of course, I’m speaking of microtransactions, which is a trend that has taken hold of the gaming industry and continues to spread like a virus. I’m truly not a fan, and in GraveStompers they will always be on your mind. Collecting bones by killing zombies is a grueling process and takes much longer than it should. After every level you’ll barely have enough to do anything. Taking into account all the extra content previously mentioned, plus the fact that bones are used to buy ammo, repair/upgrade guns–and even to heal faster between levels–it all quickly adds up. Eventually, you’ll get so tired of it, that spending a few dollars on a couple of thousand bones won’t seem like such a big deal. And herein lies the problem, the game is sadly designed to lead you this outcome sooner or later.
GraveStompers ends up being an enjoyable mobile game if you know what to expect. You’ll be pleased by the game’s superb graphics and art design right away, as well as the great controls which were given plenty of refinement. Killing hundreds of zombies and demons with lots of different weapons will also keep you entertained for a while, though the repetitive nature of the combat system becomes obvious with longer play sessions. Lastly, the way the game encourages microtransactions will likely leave a sour taste in your mouth. It’s a zombie game with lots of charm and great looks, but whether it remains on your device will depend on how much patience you have to spare.
- Easy to pick up to play
- Plenty of unlockable content
- Controls are tight and responsive
- Excellent art direction and 3D visuals
- The gameplay, while fun, can get repetitive over time
- Microtransactions are heavily emphasized